One night in Seoul, three hours in China (vacation part 1)

11:31 AM Jmo 0 Comments

I knew when planning for this trip that it would be quite the life changing experience. I knew that I'd be encountering things that would be hard to explain and relay back to others that weren't there to experience them first-hand. I knew I'd come back enriched and with a new perspective. I knew all of these things. But yet I went into it telling myself "Hey, it's only a week. How much can really happen?"

My travel day started at school. I had to leave for school that morning with a weeks worth of travel gear in a backpack because I was heading straight from school to my coteacher's house for lunch, then straight from there to the train station to meet Kate and head to Seoul. It was a lovely send-off at my coteacher's home. She lives in a modern high rise apartment not too far from our school with clean, minimalistic, decor and space-age appliances. I left school with Chani and we were greeted at Mrs. Nam's apartment by Mrs. Nam and my other coteacher Mrs. Lee busy in the kitchen. Mrs. Lee (whom has been my 3rd and 4th grade substitute coteacher while Hyo has been on maternity leave) has always been a "mom" to us; feeding us constantly. This lunch was no exception. For today's lunch (lunch, mind you) she made black bean noodles from scratch, a tomato chicken salad with a sweet garlic dressing, and 전 (jeon, Korean pancake -one of my favorite things here! My favorite is 김치전: kimchi jeon. But today's was topped with green onions and seafood. A close second!). Mrs. Nam prepared the sides: 4 different types of homemade 김치 (traditional, white, radish, and young), teyriaki eggs, and these delicious pepper/cucumber hybrids that I'm not sure the name of just yet -but need to find out because they're so fresh and delicious!
So we ate and talked like girlfriends for a bit. So fun. The four of us really do get along well and this was a milestone in our relationship. Though the language barrier is a constant force that keeps both parties shy, every once in a while we cross our cultural line drawn in the sand and become more than just coworkers. After lunch we had fruit for dessert and tea and coffee out of little dainty cups fit for old lady tea time. Mrs. Nam was excited to show us her new coffee maker (similar to a Keurig but Korean sized -smaller if you can believe) and made some for us to try. It tasted like real coffee! So much so that my coteachers couldn't handle it and instantly began dumping spoonful after spoonful of straight sugar into it to make it less bitter. I kid you not, half a cup of sugar was dissolved into one tea set sized cup of coffee. haha
Anyhoo! I had to meet Kate at the train station and Mrs. Nam was generous enough to drive me, but! I was at the mercy of traffic. Thankfully Kate got there early to pick up the tickets I reserved because I barely made it there in time. We made it to Seoul and to our hostel in Hongdae in no time. Our hostel was super cute and was called Yellow Submarine. The staff was cute and set the tone for the type of people we were going to encounter on this trip.
So. We had a night in Seoul. A night to kick off our trip right. Seoul has anything and everything that you could want or think to do. So, what did we do? We B-lined it for the first Mexican restaurant we saw. We ate at a place called Dos Tacos where I had one of the best burritos I've had in a long time. I may not have my appetite fully back yet, but just thinking about this place makes my tummy grumble. (This was the first stop on our all night foreign food bender...)  After that we wandered the streets of Hongdae taking in the sights and shops. Hongdae is a great little borough of Seoul. It's very trendy, up and coming, and popular with the college-age crowd of Seoul. I loved it and can't wait to go back. We made our way to a cute restaurant nestled in a side street called Waikiki Beach. Yes, it was Hawaiian themed. This place looked like it was meant for date night, complete with a candlelit walkway and imported flora. But hell, Kate and I were on a date...our plus ones just happened to be beer and dessert. Our next stop on the Hongdae tour was a grill/bar called Burger B's. Extremely college. Extremely hipster. I loved it. It reminded me of this bar I used to go to back in Grand Rapids called Stella's. We posted up here for a couple hours talking and drinking our fair share of microbrew. (IPAs..ohh how I've missed you.) Feeling pretty good (haha) we decided that no first-night-of-vacation would be complete without dancing. We sought out a club a couple stories up that looked interested enough, I'm sure the fog pouring out of the windows had something to do with it, and went in. We were definitely the only foreigners in there and stood out, a tall white girl surrounded by petite Koreans all synchronize-dancing in matching pastels and over sized thick rimmed glasses. Yeah, something like that. So we stayed there for a while -meaning we left once we couldn't take the stares anymore. Sorry I don't know the dance to ...whatever it was you were dancing to!! Sorry, ok?! haha
After that (and one more bar) we were deciding what we should do. It was getting late and we had to leave for the airport at 5am. Our choices were A) persevere and go all night til we had to leave, OR, B) stuff ourselves with food and crawl back to our hostel for three hours of sleep. We chose option B and ended up at a lovely place called Monster Pizza. I was in New York style, Kevin McCallister, cheese pizza heaven! We hung out with the late night pizza crowd (I feel like Anthony Bourdain would've been proud) and devoured the spoils of a successful night out in Seoul. We crossed the street to make our way back to our hostel and...what's this I see? Could my eyes be deceiving me? Was I really that drunk?! No. I wasn't. And no, it wasn't a mirage. It was Taco Bell.  Yep. We did. When in all the foreign food! Some things never change. Late night Taco Bell runs are universal. They bring people together. They may in fact solve world peace one day. hahaha oh god, I'm hungry...
So we partook it yet another late night-Seoul-cultural group. We were tired and giddy and Kate had a thing for the guy that took our order. But how could she not? He was quite adorable. You can't really describe the service industry here unless you experience it first hand. She ordered a pop and he handed her the cup  gingerly with both hands like it was a prized possession, bowed, and smiled. We couldn't handle it and knew right then we needed to call it a night.
Making our way to the airport a few hours later was a groggy mess, but we were excited to ditch our coats in storage and prepare ourselves for tank tops and coconuts! But before we made it to the land of thai teas and elephants we had to stop over in China. Kate and I actually forgot about our layover until the day of and actually weren't even sure of the city in which we were stopping. The city's name was Gapcheon and upon arrival you knew you weren't in the land of Gangnam Style anymore. Getting off the plane we were funnelled down into this atrium with high ceilings to be processed by the Chinese government. Yes, we were going to be there -in the airport- for a whole three hours, but because we were on Chinese soil so we had to go through immigration. A little intimidating. Could you imagine if our trip stopped right there? Ha. After we had our passports stamped we were escorted down a hallway to the international terminal to wait. The destinations flying out of this airport were exciting: Jakarta, Manila, Dubai, and of course...Bangkok! We had some time to kill and we were hungry. Wouldn't it be fun to eat an eggroll in China?! That's what we thought too... But, unfortunately, the one restaurant that looked appealing in the airport terminal couldn't accept any credit cards at the time -only Chinese Yen. So we spent our time perusing over priced panda pencils, key chains, and travel pillows.
As we were taking off from Gapcheon I couldn't help but visualize our plane country hopping like that in the opening title screen of the Street Fighter arcade game. I could hear the video game narrator say "Thailand" in that monotone growl. But both of our flights to and from China were exceptional. They fed us on both flights and treated us very well otherwise. Even if the woman behind me decided to physically move my chair into the upright position haha!

And then we arrived in Bangkok....


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